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Training one limb to strengthen the other

January 2nd, 2012

An interesting figure from a new Australian study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology:

The subjects in the study did eight weeks of heavy weight training — using only one leg (their dominant one). As you can see, they dramatically increased strength in both legs. This effect is well known, but I still think it’s pretty cool! The goal of this particular study was to try to figure exactly how this happens, using magnetic pulses to the brain to help assess the role of the nervous system. They did indeed find a significant reduction in “corticospinal inhibition” in both legs, suggesting that the training improves the transmission of the signal from the brain to the muscle, and this improvement applies to both sides of the body.

The point? Well, as the researchers note, it’s something to bear in mind if you have an injury in one leg or one arm. You might be able to keep the injured limb strong without even exercising it. Of course, you have to balance that against the risk of creating physical imbalances. I guess the ideal would be to train enough to increase strength without actually putting on muscle. As the researchers conclude, clinical trials of this approach are needed.

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  1. January 3rd, 2012 at 01:36 | #1

    I also think this stuff is pretty cool. There’s a physio in the U.S. who developed a system of rehab that involves training the “good” side only. totalmotionrelease.com. Interesting at the very least.

  2. Barry Gaunt
    January 3rd, 2012 at 16:56 | #2

    What to do if it is the dominant leg that is injured? I’m trying to build up my dominant leg after a quad tendon rupture. Actually I feel that my dominant leg is still stronger than the other good leg when cycling up a hill.

  3. January 4th, 2012 at 10:12 | #3

    It is pretty cool indeed. The title caught my attention because I am a Feldenkrais practitioner and we often let people try a movement on one side and then let them imagine the movement on the other side. This does work to improve the other side but some people are hard to convince… they just won’t try. This paper may be one argument. Thanks a lot ! :)

  4. January 5th, 2012 at 21:28 | #4

    Thanks for sharing Alex,
    you mentioned the risk of creating imbalances by training one limb while the other is injured. What are your thoughts on using this technique to build strength in a unilateral athlete, while allowing their actual limb that is used in sport to rest. For example, a baseball pitcher who may need to rest his throwing arm at the end of the season could begin his off-season workout on his non-throwing hand and therefore potentially not lose as much in his throwing hand during the untrained period.

  1. January 5th, 2012 at 17:26 | #1